I like to say that I love classic movies because of the more creative dialogues; back in the day strong words had to be exchanged without expletives…I love them because there is no chance of seeing people fall into bed with one another, no chance of seeing naked flesh against more of the same. Even in my rebel-heathen days, I never enjoyed seeing people do what should be kept behind closed doors.
But the truth is, I love old movies because of the beautiful people – male and female. They seem to be of a different caliber than the “hot stars” of today; maybe it’s my imagination, but I think these stars were just more appealing and delicious than those gracing the screen today. Maybe it’s because they behaved, on screen, with more class; because they dressed so elegantly..I don’t know. But at any rate here is a rundown of my personal favorites.
Paul Newman. Who doesn’t love Paul Newman??? It’s almost a cliche to have him on my list, but I couldn’t leave him off! I first discovered his cuteness in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I soon gobbled up such classics as The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (sorry, not a Redford fan though) Cool Hand Luke, and The Long Hot Summer. His chemistry sizzles whenever he’s on screen whether he’s the leading man or somebody’s crochety dad; he was the only thing I liked about Message in a Bottle.
Cary Grant. He was one of the few actors who could do comedy and drama with equal aplomb. I’ve loved even the silliest of his comedies; he was enchanting – and in fact, he still is. My favorite movie with Cary is probably His Girl Friday, though I enjoyed him in Bringing Up Baby, The Awful Truth, My Favorite Wife, and North by Northwest, to name a few. Probably the only movie I didn’t really care for was Indiscreet – don’t know why, but I just wasn’t turned on by that flick.
Vivien Leigh. Nobody could have done Scarlett O’Hara as perfectly as Vivien Leigh. I found it impossible to believe that studio heads were trying to get Katharine Hepburn for that role; that’s just ridiculous. One would think that Margaret Mitchell had Vivien in mind as she created everyone’s favorite spoiled brat southern belle. Though best known for her role in Gone With the Wind, I absolutely worshipped her in Anna Karenina, and she literally ripped my heart out in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Joan Fontaine. Versatile comes to mind when I think of Joan Fontaine. Such a beautiful woman – she could be transformed from her stunningly beautiful self into a mousy, uninteresting creature with ease; yet, even when disguised as a bookish old maid, her charisma shines through. I first discovered Ms. Fontaine in Rebecca – quite possibly the best film adaptation of a book ever. I later watched her in Suspicion (with Cary Grant) and Jane Eyre (with Orson Welles). Jane Eyre was particularly interesting as there was a beautiful child in the orphanage with Jane at the beginning of the movie – none other than a young Elizabeth Taylor as Jane’s sickly friend Helen.
Gregory Peck. What is there to say? To Kill A Mockingbird is easily one of the best movies (and books) of the 20th century, no doubt thanks to his portrayal of the attorney Atticus Fitch. I was swept away with him in The Snows of Kilamanjaro, I was spellbound watching him with Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound…the weirdest role for him had to be as the evil Damien’s dad in The Omen. He was more than a bit too old to be adopting a baby, if you ask me…
James Stewart. Whether he’s playing a mild mannered, slightly senile duffer by the name of Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey, or the frustrated nice guy George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life, James Stewart captures my heart anew every time he’s on screen. The only roles I dislike are the westerns. I have loved him in Vertigo, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Glenn Miller Story, and The Philadelphia Story. Perhaps my favorite Stewart movie though is Anatomy of A Murder, because it is so shocking (well, it was shocking for its time…it mentioned panties, and sperm, and it had Lee Remick….and that really awesome Duke Ellington soundtrack)
Rosalind Russell. Full of spunk. That’s how I’d describe Rosalind Russell. She was the perfect match for Cary Grant in His Girl Friday; I got a kick out of the idea of her marrying bumpkin Ralph Bellamy…I loved the wordplay in this movie; all of the characters were perfect, but Rosalind was superb. She was witty, exciting, smart, and fun; exactly the kind of woman I would love to be.
Rosalind was also a riot as the extremely catty and petty Sylvia in The Women. In My Sister Eileen, I see the same strong spunk that made her shine in His Girl Friday. Though one of her best known roles was Auntie Mame, I didn’t care for that movie very much…
Judy Garland. What a voice, what a voice. First enraptured with her in The Wizard of Oz, I grew up admiring the little girl born with the unassuming name of Frances Ethel Gumm, not only in this great movie, but also in the Andy Hardy movies with Mickey Rooney…these played every Sunday afternoon on the public TV channel. While I never was much of a fan of musicals, there are a few that I love, and all but two of them star Judy. Meet Me in St. Louis is quite possibly the most favorite. My heart has always ached for Judy once I learned how this extremely talented and beautiful woman was plagued for most of her life with insecurities and self-doubt, doped up on drugs for weight control and to make her perform acceptably for the studios. What a horrible waste.
Humphrey Bogart. As a kid, one of the movies my dad and I enjoyed together was The African Queen, starring Bogie and Kate. I never forgot the horror I felt when Bogie came up into the boat covered with leeches. I followed Bogie though the Dark Passage, Key Largo, The Maltese Falcon, and To Have and Have Not (“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow…”).
Of course, one can not mention Bogie without remembering Casablanca; I cry my way through that movie every time.
George Sanders. This guy is definitely the most awesome creep with one of the most distinctive voices ever. Many people will recognize his voice as that of the evil tiger, Shere Khan, of Disney’s The Jungle Book. I caught a few of his films here and there, seeing one of his Falcon films one rainy afternoon; but he will forever be remembered by me as the maleovelent Addison DeWitt in All About Eve, as well as being superbly cast as a slithery cad in one of my favorite movies of all time, Rebecca. (Apart from Gone With the Wind, Rebecca has to be one of the most perfectly cast movies ever; it is so true to the book that one would think Daphne DuMaurier created her characters around the actors who starred in the film.) He did a good job of snarky scene stealing in The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well. He holds the distinction of being married to two of the Gabor sisters – Zsa Zsa and Magda.
Irene Dunne. Cast opposite Cary Grant in classic romantic comedies The Awful Truth and My Favorite Wife, Irene Dunne simply sparkled when paired with Cary. She was coy, funny, energetic, resourceful, and above all, beautiful. Interestingly enough, Ralph Bellamy played a character similar to the one he played in His Girl Friday with Grant and Rosalind Russell – the “bumpkin-like love interest” for Cary’s gal in The Awful Truth.
In My Favorite Wife, Cary Grant’s Nick has his wife Ellen (Dunne) pronounced dead after being missing for 7 years following a boating accident. After the legal procedure, Nick marries a catty girl named Bianca, not aware that Ellen survived the accident with hunky Randolph Scott; she has just finally arrived back in town. It is so much fun watching Nick try to tell Bianca about Ellen not being so dead after all. The Awful Truth finds Grant and Dunne cast as a bickering husband and wife who decide to divorce and share custody of their Jack Russell Terrier. As each tries to move on with life & other loves, they find that the awful truth is….well, I don’t want to spoil it.
I’ll have more classic cuties and beauties in the future. Thanks for reading this far. If you liked this feel free to leave a comment so I know I’m not talking to myself. ;0)